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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Filmmaker John Penney Invites Readers to Write with Him

Friday, October 14, 2022 | Uncategorized


Award-winning writer and director John Penney has spent his career writing screenplays for films (Return of the Living Dead 3, The Kindred, Re-Animator Unbound), but he counts his two novels, Truck Stop and Killing Time, among his most rewarding creative experiences to date. Now, thanks to a unique opportunity offered through Crowdfundr, Penney is giving fans the opportunity to help shape the story of his much anticipated third psychological horror novel, IT COMES BACK. 

Recently, RUE MORGUE had the chance to sit down with Penney to talk about this collaborative novel-writing process, how some strange advice from author Ray Bradbury helped him set his sights on writing and how his Crowdfundr supporters can use this opportunity to get exclusive access to his book, have a character named after them and even sign up for one-on-one meetings with John Penney himself.


Right off the top, this Crowdfundr approach sounds really exciting. What gave you this idea? 

I’m trying to mix it up a little bit. Try something new. My career has always been film – screenplay, writing, producing, directing. About ten years ago, my friend Stephen Carpenter (Grimm) encouraged me to get into books, and I wrote my novels Truckstop and Killing Time. These did really well, I had a lot of fun and I realized there was something there. It was such a fun and different process, which was interesting because I only ever really saw myself being a filmmaker. I came from a family of novelists and short story writers; My mother was a novelist, and she and I wrote a short story together when I was 16 years old that went on to be published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Ray Bradbury was a family friend, and years ago, when I first landed in Los Angeles as an English major at UCLA, he took me out to lunch. He says, “John, what do you want to do [with your life]?” and I said, “I want to write movies.” His advice was, if I wanted to be a writer, not to write movies, but books and short stories. I was young and impressionable, and that kind of messed with my head, but I went on writing screenplays and ended up heavily involved in film editing. But things collided when I did Kindred, for which I had written the script and was the film editor. So I was responsible for creating the mess on the page and then left scratching my head about why it didn’t come out the way I wanted on screen. Afterward, I wrote full-time but never short stories or books. 

About ten years later, I ended up running into Ray on a soundstage. I was doing a movie on another stage, he was writing and producing something else. I went over and said, “Hey, look at me now.” I wouldn’t say the advice Ray had given me was bad because it was relevant at the time. But things change, and now here I am, working on books and short stories. 

It’s not an easy trick – wearing both screenwriter and novelist hats. Many people are great at one or the other, but a rare few can master both. 

They are very different, and I think what still happens with me is I find I write books the same way I would write a screenplay: outlines, treatment. I do the same process. That process of slowly working it out, getting it into the basic pieces and fleshing it out further with dialogue uses the same muscle that I [use] as a screenwriter. However, in terms of story, particularly a character story and the arcs of other characters, the journey, I think I employ a very Crichton-esque approach. He was able to go from screenplays to novels well. Ironically, I always felt his novels were very, very cinematic … I’m still learning; I’m still discovering new ways, new things to try and having a blast at it. I find the liberation of novels to be really exciting. 

So, how’s it going so far with your newest Crowdfundr project? What’s that experience been like for you as a writer? Collaborative development can be really fun but also leaves the writer really vulnerable. 

I got contacted by a Crowdfundr, and they said, “Look, we’re opening up a new branch of our crowdfunding.” They’ve done like $250 million crowdfunding for other things, but they hadn’t done any crowdfunding for creative endeavors like movies and comic books. They asked if I was interested because they wanted to start this platform for graphic novels and more narrative work. I’m in a mode in my life where I say “yes” to a lot of things because you never know what to do, and I said, “Okay, that sounds interesting.” But just asking for help writing my novel wasn’t going to give people anything. So I came up with that idea of taking a piece I’d been working on – already completely outlined, to detail, dialogue and everything. I’d written about a third of it. 

And I thought I’d offer people a chance to subscribe to chapters as I get them done. I’ll put them out there, and they can give me whatever feedback. I’m back in development world, right? I thought that’s something a horror fan would be interested in – being able to see it as it’s happening, warts and all. The final novel will be shaped better, but contributors get to see it as it’s happening and give me their thoughts along the way, and at the very end, I give them a signed copy. So they get the final novel, and they get to have gone through this chapter experience with me along the way. I have other options on there as well, just for fun. I’m signing screenplays from movies I’ve done [and]  offering consulting hours, so a lot of fun stuff. There’s even an option to get a character named, so yeah, it’s wild, but fun. 

So in the end, you did sort of end up taking Ray Bradbury’s “bad advice,” didn’t you? 

[Laughs] I finally figured it out. Whether it’s books or screenplays, it’s not the plot that drives the story, it’s the character. And writing, whether short stories or novels, gives me the chance to do exactly that.

Click here to find out how to help John Penney with IT COMES BACK and earn some exclusive perks!


I’m still learning; I’m still discovering new ways, new things to try and having a blast at it.

Lindy Ryan
An award-winning author, editor, professor, and short-film director, Lindy Ryan was recently named one of horror’s six most masterful anthology curators, alongside Ellen Datlow and Christopher Golden, for her work in UNDER HER SKIN, a women-in-horror poetry showcase, and INTO THE FOREST: TALES OF THE BABA YAGA, a forthcoming women-in-horror anthology from Black Spot Books and Blackstone Audio. A 2020 Publishers Weekly Star Watch Honoree and previous board member for the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Lindy is a long-time advocate for women-in-horror and an active member of the HWA and ITW. She is the current chair of the Horror Writers Association’s Women in Horror Month. The author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, Lindy’s work has been adapted for film. Her debut horror-thriller novel, BLESS YOUR HEART, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books.